Sometimes I feel like I pick up the perfect book at the exact time I need to be reading it in my life. Several years ago I took the Pulitzer Prize winning Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt out of the library. I remember it being an enthralling read. But I couldn’t get through it because it just left me so unbearably sad. Passages left me bawling.
When I returned it to the library they said I’d damaged it and they wouldn’t take it back. I’d have to keep it and pay them $30. I was broke at the time, and as much as I love the library, I cursed it the whole drive to the bank to withdraw money. And then I returned to the library with the $30 and I’d been crying so my face was all red and my eyes were puffy and I really thought that the book had been damaged when I took it out, but I’d borrowed it for so long that I couldn’t remember (and I might’ve been locked out of my house in the rain one day and the pages of the book might’ve gotten damp). So I handed the librarian the money and she looked at me full of concern, and she was like, “What’s the matter?!” And that made me more upset.
I know. It’s a sad story. But Angela’s Ashes is way more sad.
Anyway! Right now I’m reading another book my Frank McCourt, ‘Tis. It’s amazing. It’s all about him arriving in New York City from Ireland and trying to make it on his own. The stories are great. But his writing style is what really fascinates me. He’s recounting these years when he was really naive. But he doesn’t add anything like, “Oh, in retrospect, this was a bad idea…” He just writes what he did and what he thought at the time.
In one part he returns to Ireland for a visit and he’s happy because his family doesn’t have to deal with being bitten by fleas at night because they have DDT. But he doesn’t say, “Since then we’ve all learned how bad DDT is for the human body and how it nearly killed off bald eagles, blah blah blah.”
So, I’m about to get laid off from the job I’ve had for two years. And it’s gotten me thinking about what’s next. Thinking about what I really want to be spending my time in New York doing. Which is what McCourt was doing several decades ago.
Here’s a passage that stopped me in my tracks. It reminded me of exactly what I don’t want to be spending my time in New York doing. I didn’t want to turn to the next page I loved it so much:
I don’t know how they can work in these offices day after day, year in, year out. I can’t stop looking at the clock and there are times I think I’ll just get up and walk away the way I did at the Blue Cross insurance company. The people in their offices don’t seem to mind. They go to the water cooler, they go to the toilet, they walk from desk to desk and chat, they call from desk to desk on the telephone, they admire each other’s clothes, hair, makeup, and anytime someone loses a few pounds on a diet. If a woman is told she lost weight she smiles for an hour and keeps running her hands over her hips. Office people brag about their children, their wives, their husbands and they dream about the two-week vacation.
I’m sent to an import-export firm on Fourth Avenue. I’m given a pile of papers that have to do with importing Japanese dolls. I’m supposed to copy this paper to that paper. It’s 9:30 A.M. by the office clock. I look out the window. The sun is shining. A man and woman are kissing outside a coffee shop across the avenue. It’s 9:33 A.M. by the office clock. The man and woman separate and walk in opposite directions. They turn. They run toward each other to kiss a gain. It’s 9:36 A.M. by the office clock. I take my jacket from the back of the chair and slip it on. The office manager stands at his cubicle door and says, Hey, what’s up? I don’t answer. People are waiting for the elevator but I head for the stairs and run as fast as I can down seven flights. The kissing people have disappeared and I’m sorry. I wanted to see them once more. I hope they’re not going to offices where they’ll be typing lists of Japanese dolls…